Reorganizing: An Innovative Solution
During Woodworking Technology Days, I kept hearing the same two things over and over:
- There’s a huge skilled labour shortage impacting our industry
- Supply chain issues mean that lead times on new machinery are much longer than usual
So if you don’t have the labour force and you don’t have the machinery to replace the people, how are you supposed to grow, expand, meet demands? The best answer I got to that question was from Jeff Hepinstall, a sales rep at Felder, who brought up reorganizing the floor plan and workflow.
“A lot of shops grow and expand out of necessity, not because they took the time to plan it out,” explained Hepinstall. “They might get a new machine and put it wherever they have room. Or maybe they build an expansion on their building but don’t change the shop layout properly. They lose a lot of time backtracking.”
Hepinstall is happy to chat with his customers and give his opinions on how they can reorganize what they already have to improve their workflow. He’s an excellent person to ask because he’s got the background to give some solid advice.
“At Conestoga college, we needed to do a course on facilities planning. We had to do case studies by going into plants and observing production,” he explained. “At the end, we had to write a report for our professor and explain what we would change in the setup and how these changes would affect productivity. We also had an assignment where we had to design a facility. So workflow and floor planning are always in the back of my mind when I’m going around a shop.”
He explained that you need to look internally when you have no more space to grow. This means looking at the layout of your shop and how you divide up your resources. Often people are hesitant to reorganize the shop because it would mean shutting down to do the work, therefore losing production time. But Hepinstall says the solution could be as simple as moving a workbench.
My new favourite question to ask suppliers is, “do your customers know what they’re doing wrong?”. So far, every time, the answer has been “no.”
“In small shops, people are just doing it the way they know how, the way they’ve always done it, the way they need to do it to keep things moving,” he explained. “If you’ve only got two or three people in the shop, you’re not going to take the time to measure, time, and plan. Eventually, it gets to a tipping point, and people realize things need to change.”
Hepinstall pointed out that adding a person is an old solution to that problem. Reorganizing the shop can save time, money, and staffing. The best way to do it? Find your bottlenecks, talk to a pro, and plan ahead. More research leads to better solutions.
“If you’re standing there with a stopwatch and a clipboard, you’re going to get some dirty looks,” he told me, alluding to a time and motion study he did at school. “But you’ve got to look at every little detail.”
Sow what an example of an adjustment that shops can make that can have a high return on investment is?
“Moving dust collection systems is pretty cost-effective,” he explained. “You don’t need to get an electrician in to do any wiring. You can change your setup without significant downtime or cost.”
I wanted to know, coaching a customer in reorganizing their shop – is that a common sales tactic? In my mind, it seems to make more sense to sell a product to solve a problem. Hepinstall is focused on building relationships and reatining existing customers.
“It’s a way of showing the customer you care about their shop,” he explained. “Sure, it might not mean a sale right now, but it can lead them towards a future solution that does involve us. We want smart and thoughtful customers to make the right decisions for their shop. I want to sell people the tools that they need to make their business work.”
And with the long lead times on new machines, it makes sense to look at reorganizing while you’re waiting for your machine.
”You’ll have downtime anyways, so why not make the most of that time and reorganzie the shop while you’re installing the new equipment?” asked Hepinstall. ”It’s the best way to make the most of your time.”